Wired News: MySpace Parent Cheat Sheet

Wired News is running a brief guide to MySpace for parents, because, if you are a parent who is clueless about MySpace, there is a good chance you track on Wired News, right? Oh, maybe not.

But something there caught my eye: danah boyd is quoted as saying “Don’t go on and engage in surveillance. That makes things really hard for kids to engage with you as a parent.” When a reporter asked me the same question, I had just the opposite answer: this isn’t a diary, it’s a public space, and there isn’t anything that says you cannot engage your kids there.

I’m not sure I’m right. I agree that kids (and other aged humans) need autonomous spaces in which they can grow, learn, and interact socially. I do think that the majority of the panic surrounding MySpace is the standard sort of fear (and fear mongering) that surrounds any new technology. Like other examples, there is always a seed of truth in some of the hyperbole, but it is over-wrought.

But I think that there is a disconnect between kids’ expectations of privacy in these spaces and the reality, which is that this is a transparent space; it is semi-public.

So, you shouldn’t go and spy on your kids in their own hangouts either, but if you happen to drive down the street and see your kids hanging out with a gang, it’s not wrong to wonder why.

I’m a bit torn here. I wonder if the right answer is to start your own MySpace page and friend your kids. I guess not. Of course, when I have kids I’ll probably end up spying on them incessantly. What was it Reagan said? “Trust, but verify.”

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  1. Posted 2/27/2006 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    When I do workshops about blogging with libraians, teachers, and administrators in schools I always show them MySpace. I make sure to do some previewing of a search for their school so I can show them some more shocking pages first. BUT, before we go there, I stop and get very serious. I tell them that what they are about to see will quite likely shock, dismay, concern, frighten, disgust, and otherwise anger them. Then I remind them that the site is called MYspace, not ADULTAPPROVEDspace. I suggest that they need to respect the space, if not the content in the space. I actually make them raise their hands and swear not to “freak out” about what they see.

    Then we look at the pages. There is some bad stuff, but I remind them they can’t freak out. What they are allowed to do, is start a conversation with their students /children about what is safe and appropriate. If they want to get their kids attention, though, they have to approach it very calmly. A good way to start is with the very neutral statement “So I was looking at your MySpace page….” Delivered in a non-judgemental tone, it is a great way to break the ice, I think. Brining the FUD that shows up on TV news just won’t cut it. Remember, we shut ourselves out of their space by blocking it in schools and not being involved enough with our children to keep up with what they are doing.

    So far, this has worked. Some parents in the audiences have come up and asked for more infromation on how to search for their kids, and I have taught them. But I also remind them of their promise not to “freak out.” I think that provides a nice middle ground between surveillance and respecting the public/privacy of an online identity. One of the biggest problems is that the kids don’t realize it is public – but that comes back to the issue of schools blocking access and thus shutting down the conversation and any possiblity of teaching about MySpace/online privacy and safety.

  2. Posted 2/28/2006 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    MySpace and LiveJournal…where to begin on this comment; probably with myspace, which is the sole reason that charges against my younger (14 at the time) year old brother for Sexual Harassment and Assault were thrown out. On the girls myspace page, she she said things like “I WANT TO SUCK YOUR ****” to her friends; also had plans for supposedly “beating asians with bats” and other less than charming things…her parents didn’t know she even knew how to use the internet, let alone that she knew what a **** was…the case was dropped after our attorney faxed this to her parents…the issue of course (comm theory wise) was that this child assumed since she had to log in, it was a private place.


    My First LJ was created in my Senior Year of High School; unlike MySpace however LJ allows for Public, Private and Grey Space (I made sure my parents signed up for an account when I left for college so they could see my ‘friends only’ posts – it didn’t mean, of course, that there weren’t also ‘everyone but parents’ posts) so with LJ you know when what you’re saying is public, when it is private (or your eyes only) when EVERYONE who you list as a friend can read it and when only customized groups can read it probably making the user slightly more aware that it’s a public medium (since all the options are explained).



    **I’m Self Censoring Here

  3. Posted 3/3/2006 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    So, public spaces have always existed where teens can be teens and where parents cannot overhear everything they do. Sure, a mom can come up to her daughter at the mall, grab her by the ear and drag her home. But that doesn’t mean she can access every conversation that her daughter just had for the last two hours. Those conversations were meant for her friends and even if someone overheard them, it’s not the same. Digital publics are both like and unlike physical publics. You can’t just say that this is a world where people are publishing so anyone should be able to get access to whatever is said. That’s not the case offline and that shouldn’t be the case online, regardless of the technical feasibility.

    The bigger problem is one of trust. Remember when mom would jump on the phone to listen in to your conversation and you’d scream “mom!” cuz you heard the click? You were annoyed and probably lost a bit of trust, but nothing significant cuz nothing was overheard. But what happened when mom came into your room and read your diary and then challenged you about its contents? Sure, it was her house and that book was architecturally accessible to her. But for the teen, that is far more problematic. You’d probably vow to hate her forever, even though you probably wouldn’t. Still, each of these acts rips at trust. And trust is critical for teen/adult relationships and the health of the teen.

    It’s certainly not a bad thing to talk with your teens about what they’re doing online. Get them to show you. But don’t go acting like a stalker. Lots of kids actually link to their parents – this to me is a really good sign of a healthy relationship. Teens that i’ve talked to who have this relationship are in really good shape. Yay for understanding parents!

    It’s hard not to walk to psycho-surveil your kids. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. And just cuz you can doesn’t mean you should. And just cuz the digital architecture means you can search for them out in the public doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes, you just need to have some faith and be open to conversation.

  4. Whitney
    Posted 6/27/2006 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m 15 years old and I have a myspace account myself.My parents do not, but they have seen myspace in general while they are at work, which they regularly try to search for my account.

    Having a myspace is not different from walking down a high school hallway. There’s teenagers cussing, smoking cigarettes outside, selling drugs in some schools, and dressing very inappropriately. To make a teenager delete a myspace is like saying you’re going to take them out of school.

    I will admit, I’ve said some things on myspace that my mother would be shocked at. But it’s things I say to my friends, not strangers. The key to myspace is being personally responsible. I never accept people whom I don’t personally know or know from a friend are good people. I have my profile set to public to all under 18, but I’m not accepting creepy guys [[or girls]] who wanna be my friend. And if someone asks to be my friend and I don’t know them, i will message them to see if theres been a mistake. If they say “i just want to get to know you” or something along those lines, I deny them. its simple really.

    Girls getting raped and murdered by men they meet on myspace IS disturbing, especially for a teenage girl who has older men regularly messaging her. But at the same time, the girl is somewhat responsible for the men she meets. Think about it, if she had KNOWN to avoid people she didnt know.. it may not have ended that way. When my mom found out i had a myspace, she reverted to calling my dad [[they’re divorced]] and getting his opinion. They agreed that if I set my profile to private and watched my language and the pictures I’ve posted, i could keep my myspace.

    if myspace does get deleted, teenagers will just find another site like this one to express themselves — its unavoidable.


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